HBO has always been an incredible network that strives to bring sophisticated and multifaceted programming and characters to the screen. They will soon be taking another stride forward on their path to ever greater cinematic heights by adding mental health disclaimers to specific shows. On the surface, this might first sound like the time McDonald’s added the “Caution: Contents are hot” label to their freshly brewed coffee, but it’s nothing like what you’d expect. Sadly it seems that people are all too unaware of what mental health problems look like, and very few characters accurately represent them on screen. HBO is changing that by increasing education and promoting assistance for people who are suffering and those around them.
Where Did We Go Wrong?
Humans have been working tirelessly to understand their brains since we discovered we had such a thing inside our heads. We’ve made huge strides forward in so many areas, like technology, and we all know it. We admire HBO for helping work toward a better-informed public even as they entertain us. While most people could easily point out technological advances, it’s less common to find a person who can accurately explain simple things about mental health. This is especially shocking, given that about twenty percent of the US population reports some form of mental illness each year.
You’ve probably heard someone say something incredibly uninformed at some point and not known it. For example, a popular one is, “I’m schizophrenic, and so am I.” You only need to read enough T-shirts to see this ‘funny joke.’ If you’re not sure what’s wrong with that, other than the part where it’s clearly picking on the mentally ill by marginalizing their struggles. Allow us to clear this up in the simplest way possible. People with schizophrenia do not have multiple personalities.
Perpetuating a myth like this is no better than when people used to classify everything from genuine anxiety disorders to a bad day and some complaints as “female hysteria,” but only when it happened to women. The question of where we went wrong is simple enough; It’s just a lack of public education. We aren’t living in the dark ages anymore, and there’s plenty of great information about the chemical imbalances and traumas that affect human brains. Yet there are no classes in primary schools that cover the basics even though quite literally two out of every ten people you know will statistically suffer from a mental health problem this year. HBO has had enough of that, and they aim to be the change they want to see in the world. We admire the heck out of them for it.
HBO in the Know
We aren’t sure who originally pitched this idea to HBO first, Regardless, that genius deserves a medal, or at least a hearty handshake and a certificate of achievement for bringing something vital and underrepresented into the realm of public conversation. In fact, they are saying, “Viewer conversation is encouraged.” When it comes to refreshing, new, and critical, HBO is on the ball. NAMI, the National Organization for Mental Illness, is working alongside HBO to help destigmatize the conditions portrayed on some shows. The initiative will help people who are suffering, their friends and families, and people who have no idea what they’re seeing when characters on popular shows and movies display signs of severe mental illness. Many shows that feature characters who have these issues will now show these pre-air warnings, which will be given in a positive light. Rather than ‘warning’ people away from the shows, they will warn people to get educated and discuss what they’re seeing. Some of the shows that will have the mental health disclaimers include; Girls, The Sopranos, Euphoria, and Barry.
The first episode of Doctor Commentaries went out alongside an episode of Lena Dunham’s “Girls.” Clinical Psychologist Dr. Ali Mattu presents commercial-break length segments that are two to three minutes long. They advocate for and help explain, certain facets of mental illness as it relates to the particular episode or program. The short shows will be posted on both his and HBO’s YouTube channels in case you missed them or want to go over it again later. As a well known and respected mental health advocate, this educational outreach from Dr. Mattu is part of the campaign to help people understand the programming better and inform consumers about a serious issue.
HBO is already known for its award-winning content. Now they’re taking that idea a step further by helping people better comprehend the material. Creating smarter, and hopefully, more empathetic viewers benefit both the audience and HBO. People have always loved those extra tidbits of insight into their favorite stars and the people they portray. Now it will serve a purpose that helps make the world a better and more understanding place to live.
Fear of the Unknown
The twenty percent of people who actually report mental health concerns each year are not alone. Plenty of folks aren’t able to ask for the help they need because they don’t understand what’s wrong or know there is help and hope for them. Only about two to seven percent of Film and TV characters are currently portraying mental illness, and that’s far fewer than there are in reality. Heroes who have “issues” are few and far between. Who can you look up to when there’s no one like you in the media, and no one around you will talk about the elephant in the room? HBO is taking a bold step by saying enough is enough. It’s time to get these problems recognized so people can stop being afraid of what they don’t understand and start helping themselves and others to find real solutions.
If every channel put the same effort into creating, displaying, and explaining their content, we wouldn’t need this sort of concentrated effort. HBO is our new hero for helping to get the word out about authentic and truly misunderstood health conditions that a massive portion of the population deals with. Silence, shame, anger, fear, and denial are not and never have been clinically valid treatments for a problem. Please allow us to take a page from the HBO playbook by ending this article the way they plan to end shows about this universal topic:
“If you or someone who know needs help, please call: 1-833-HBO-NAMI or visit NAMI.org.”